U.S. House members eyeing retiring Rockefeller’s Senate seat

When U.S. Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV arrived in West Virginia nearly half a century ago — appointed by U.S. Attorney Robert F. Kennedy in July 1964 to work with the President’s Commission on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime in the small community of Emmons — it’s doubtful even he envisioned a lifetime of political service to the Mountain State.

Two years later he won his first election, a two-year term in the House of Delegates from Kanawha County and his nearly half century of political service in and for West Virginia was under way.

Earlier this month, Rockefeller announced he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, bringing an end to his many years of political service to West Virginia.

His one political defeat came in 1972 when he lost the governor’s race to incumbent Republican Arch Moore. When he ran again in 1975, he won, and won re-election in 1980 before rising to the U.S. Senate in 1984.

Rockefeller said the recent announcement by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito to be a candidate for the Senate in 2014 did not influence his decisio to step down. Indeed many people believe she had at least some hint of his plans to retire when she made her announcement, which should discourage any serious Republican opposition.

Perhaps of even more significance is that the Second District seat that Capito has held for more than a decade could now be in play for Democrats to capture. After all, this is a state with a 2-1 Democratic majority.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley has also mentioned the possibility that he will forfeit his seat in the First Congressional District to challenge Capito. But he most likely will opt to run again for the House of Representatives because it seems unlikely he would be able to beat Capito in the primary.

Third District Congressman Nick Jo Rahall, West Virginia’s only Democrat in the House, has said he too is considering a run for the Senate next year. Once a staff assistant to Robert C. Byrd, he is now in his 18th term and would probably be the most likely one to beat Capito in the 2014 general election. But he could decide giving up his seniority in the House is not worth the risk.

Meanwhile, even though a governor in West Virginia can only serve two successive terms, Earl Ray Tomblin could make the case that he actually began his third term last Monday in ceremonies on the front steps of the State Capitol when he took the oath of office.

The first occasion came following the death of U. S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and the appointment of then-Gov. Joe Manchin to take Byrd’s seat in Congress. As president of the state Senate, Tomblin was automatically elevated to the vacancy in the governor’s office and made his investiture address in November 2010. A year later, he won a special election and gave his first inaugural address to begin the remainder of the four-year term begun in 2009 by Manchin.

Under the state Constitution, Tomblin will not be able to run for governor again in 2016 even though he still will not have served two full four-year terms in that position like many governors before him — most recently Jay Rockefeller from 1977 to 1985 and Arch A. Moore Jr., who served from 1969-1977.

Now he must prepare for his first State of the State speech to begin the 60-day 2013 legislative session on Feb. 13 and the emphasis in his brief speech last Monday on the State Capitol steps suggests a major issue will be his plans for improving this state’s public education system. He warned student achievement is “falling behind” other states but wary education lobbyists indicated they want to see specifics before endorsing his plans.

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